Heating food in plastic containers linked to dioxin and cancer

Received this in an Email from a relative who is a breast cancer survivor. Don’t have a link for it yet. In the meantime, if you are fixing something to eat right now, don’t use that plastic refrigerator container in the microwave.

Subject: FW: Cancer News from Johns Hopkins

Cancer News from Johns Hopkins:
1. No plastic containers in microwave ovens. This means NONE, not even the ones that claim to be microwave safe.

2. No water bottles in freezer.

3. No plastic wrap in microwave.

Johns Hopkins has recently sent this out in its newsletters. This information is being circulated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as well. Dioxin chemicals causes cancer, especially breast cancer.

Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don’t freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic.

Recently, Dr. Edward Fujimoto, Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital, was on a TV program to explain this health hazard. He talked about dioxins and how bad they are for us.

He said that we should not be heating our food in the microwave using plastic containers. This especially applies to foods that contain fat. He said that the combination of fat, high heat, and plastics releases dioxin into the food and ultimately into the cells of the body.

Instead, he recommends using glass, such as Corning Ware, Pyrex or ceramic containers for heating food. You get the same results, only without the dioxin. So such things as TV dinners, instant ramen and soups, etc., should be removed from the container and heated in something else. Paper isn’t bad but you don’t know what is in the paper. It’s just safer to use tempered glass, Corning Ware, etc.

He reminded us that a while ago some of the fast food restaurants moved away from the foam containers to paper. The dioxin problem is one of the reasons.

Also, he pointed out that plastic wrap, such as Saran, is just as dangerous when placed over foods to be cooked in the microwave. As the food is nuked, the high heat causes poisonous toxins to actually melt out of the plastic wrap and drip into the food. Cover food with a paper towel instead.

This is an article that should be sent to anyone important in your life!

Update: this piece was migrated from a different site. Comments and links have been retained.

5 Responses to “Heating food in plastic containers linked to dioxin and cancer”

  1. Christopher Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 12:19 pm Well, not quite.Snopes has already debunked this particular urban myth in its entry called “Plastic-tac-toe”, but if you want to see what Johns Hopkins actually says about it (as opposed to the paragraph ascribed to Johns Hopkins but in reality added by some unknown Internet user back in early 2004), visit the interview with Rolf Halden, Ph.D. (Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).Here is a relevant excerpt:

    What about cooking with plastics?

    RH: In general, whenever you heat something you increase the likelihood of pulling chemicals out. Chemicals can be released from plastic packaging materials like the kinds used in some microwave meals. Some drinking straws say on the label “not for hot beverages.” Most people think the warning is because someone might be burned. If you put that straw into a boiling cup of hot coffee, you basically have a hot water extraction going on, where the chemicals in the straw are being extracted into your nice cup of coffee. We use the same process in the lab to extract chemicals from materials we want to analyze.

    If you are cooking with plastics or using plastic utensils, the best thing to do is to follow the directions and only use plastics that are specifically meant for cooking. Inert containers are best, for example heat-resistant glass, ceramics and good old stainless steel.

    Even the Mayo clinic has entered the debate with the following statement:

    Other claims have suggested that plastics contain dioxins, a group of contaminants labeled as a “likely human carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency. But according to the FDA, there is no evidence that plastic containers or wraps contain dioxins.

    Again, however, there is the admonition to only use plastics that have been approved for microwaves.

    As for the e-mail warning, it is among those that BreakTheChain.org recommends not sending on. Their very complete analysis of the issue can be found in their article, “Microwaves, Plastics, and Dioxins — Oh My!”

  2. Christopher Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 12:58 pm Damn. I wrote out a whole snark on this perennial e-mail “warning,” which, when I submitted it, “softly and suddenly vanished away.”Apparently my Snark was a Boojum.Okay, so I’ll try my snark again, this time without quotations and summaries (but I’ll ask you to check out the links.)To begin with, this e-mail warning has nothing to do with Johns Hopkins — an attribution that was added early in 2004.

    This particular urban legend has been very roundly debunked by snopes (“Plastic-tac-toe”, Break the Chain (“Microwaves, Plastics, and Dioxins…Oh My!”, the Mayo clinic (“Plastic containers in the microwave: A cause of cancer?”), and even Johns Hopkins itself (“Researcher Dispels Myth of Dioxins and Plastic Water Bottles”).

    The upshot of all these replies is that you should only use plastics that have been deemed microwave-safe, but otherwise not to worry.

    BreakTheChain.org is requesting that this particular e-mail no longer be passed on because: “As we can see, the perceived reliability of the message’s source can be deceiving.”

    Every e-mail warning should be checked out before passing along. It is generally quite easy to do so, often involving nothing more than a quick Google search using a few of the key words. Nine out of ten times they are either hoaxes or such a mish-mash of partial facts with wild speculation as to be useless.

  3. David Clark Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 3:19 pm So far, this is an urban legend. Snopes.com has information about it here.
  4. Christopher Says:
    September 4th, 2006 at 11:22 am Oops. Obviously there is a delay feature involved in posting comments, so the comment I thought had disappeared was just caught up in a queue of some sort.Sorry about the double post (which are called “waffles” at snopes.com).
  5. Anonymous Says:
    September 4th, 2006 at 12:22 pm I was hoping some of these links would state unequivically that plastic is not harmful, but none of them do that. Instead they say the person presenting the information was a public health official and not a medical doctor, that the substance migrating into the food from the plastic was not dioxin but some other hormone-like compound, or that the information did not originate from an offical source within the hospital but was merely being passed to friends on hospital Email accounts by hospital employees. Nothing in the links that would alarm the plastic industry, is there.Instead we are told to be sure to use plastic that is clearly labeled as safe for microwave and not to let the plastic actually touch the food. The plastic has to stay one inch away from the food. Not very reassuring. I have also heard the stories about breast cancer and links to caffeine and BBQ charcoal. As someone who already has a family history of breast cancer, I don’t know what to think. Somehow I don’t expect there will be more research on the subject soon.

24 Responses to “Heating food in plastic containers linked to dioxin and cancer”

  1. alan Says:

    Your plastic story is just the tip of the iceberg. Teflon coated cookware will poison the food that is cooked in it. Plastic soft drink bottles bleed into the drink. Polyethylene coated paper cups containing drinks made from carbonated tap-water containing chlorine create a witches brew of the same ingredients as perchlorethylene dry cleaning fluid, a known carcinogen.

  2. Nijma Says:

    I have heard stories of pet birds dying when a teflon pan overheated. You have to wonder if this is the canary in the coalmine warning for humans.

    I also remember a chemical reaction from pathophys class where the chlorine molecule was busy tearing a hole in the substrate of some bodily tissue with a chain reaction when it was stopped by antioxidant vitamins A and C…

  3. Maria Moreno Says:

    I would like to read more about how safe is to cook
    with teflon coated pans. also what type of cookware
    is the safest.

    • Nick Says:

      Glass, stainless steel or ceramic are the safest. Really anything that doesn’t have plastic or a non-stick surface is ok.

  4. Nijma Says:

    I can tell you what I use myself and why:
    ~cast iron. The iron does leech into the food, but the body needs iron for red blood cells, so it’s good for you. When I wash a cast iron fry pan, I season it to preserve it from rust by heating briefly on the stove to dry, then wiping on a little cooking oil.
    ~enamel coated. From what i understand, enamel is inert and does not leach into the food. Enamel does chip easily but enamel is usually put over iron, which is safe (you can see the rust).
    ~stainless steel. I understand stainless steel is inert and does not leech into food.
    ~aluminum. Aluminum has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, so if you have that condition, check the ingredients in your deodorant, and watch the aluminum pans. I have heard it’s bad to scour aluminum. as this loosens the metal from the surface and makes it more likely to come off in your food. All my aluminum pans are older than I am and have a dull patina on the surface. I only use them for boiling water — like cooking pasta where the water is drained off–and not for cooking anything acidic, like tomato sauce.

  5. annette Says:

    My neice is cooking in the oven with the roast in a plastic bag. Any evidence that this is not healthy? I personally do not cook anything in plastic. However, since she is cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I would like to send her some evidence that her cooking method is not healthy. Thanks for the info.

  6. Nijma Says:

    I have tasted the turkey baked in the plastic bags, and it’s unbelievably moist. I wonder it you can still get them, though. Think of how the fast food chains switched from styrofoam to paper.

    If you have read the above links, you can see how hard it is to prove anything one way or another. At least that’s what I got out of it.

    If you just want someone to freak out, send them the Email I got.

  7. Forest Says:

    Using earthenwares are the best. The next best is stainless steel. Buy only the quality stainless steel as some cheap stainless steel do “stain”!

  8. Nijma Says:

    Some ceramics contain lead and are not safe for food. Years ago people used to bring back decorative pots like this from Mexico. I would be wary of products made in China. Given the recent problems with lead paint and lead-based glitter in children’s toys coming from China, I don’t believe they have adequate government quality and safety inspection programs in place.

    I have also heard you cannot cook with copper. in Asia I have seen plating over copper pots. When the plating wears through, they say you can’t use the pot any longer.

    • Catanea Says:

      In other parts of the world – like French restaurants – when the coating wears off, one replates, with a zinc…if I say alloy, some metallurgist will correct me…but it is a common and “do-at-home process. Except for Strawberry Jam, for which the French sell specially un-lined copper vessels.

  9. beyonce Says:

    Dioxins can cause cancer or other types of harm to your body. Plastic object should not be used while cooking with your food.

  10. Sree Says:

    Please somebody tell me whether we can use ceramics, made in China to cook in Microwave. I have lot of them. How do I find out whether there is lead paint in it or not, whether it is safe or not.

  11. Andrea Says:

    I would highly recommend not using any cookware or serving ware from China, even if it says food safe, there is no enforcement of laws on these exports. Also regarding plastics, why take the chance? There is obviously some contention, and dioxin is common in many plastics as well as bleached paper (including tampons) and is one of the worst carcinogenic substances known to humankind. Even if dioxin is not leaching into your food, that plastic is made from petroleum products that are toxic to produce and will likely end up in a landfill. It takes 1,000’s of years for plastic to break down (we think), and what into? We don’t even know. Stick to time tested materials from the earth not the laboratory and vote with your dollar! If there is less demand, less plastic will be produced protecting the air and land for all of us and especially for future generations.

  12. Bianca Wirth Says:

    It turns out that this is not such an urban myth after all, as indicated by a message left here two years ago. The discovery that toxic BPA’s are leaching into canned foods (thanks to plastic linings) and baby milk (thanks to plastic bottles) serves to prove that the writings above have a point!

  13. Nijma Says:

    There is a new email about this making the rounds too. I hear the people sending it are very reputable, but their names are very hush-hush. I’ll try to post it when I get the time.

    I notice the church now has wooden coffee stirrers.

  14. CoreyT Says:

    Oh my goodness, the amount of misinformation here is incredible.

    – First off, using wood won’t save you. If chemical compounds from the treatment on the wood (like bloody arsenic, for crying out loud) don’t leach out when you stir hot stuff, the E.Coli colonies in the wood grooves will. Even then, the likelihood of either of those is incredibly small.

    – Dioxins are not used in manufacture of plastics. They’re a very small by-byproduct of PVC production. And let’s say there was some dioxins trapped in the plastic; to release them, you’d have to BURN them. If it was true that mere heat released them, well you’d better replace just about all the internal components of your cars after any sun exposure (UV rays would be much more likely to let loose any toxins in the plastic), you better throw out all your kids toys or toys of your own for that matter and you absolutely should chuck out your computers, what with all the heat and all.

    Personally, you can never be too safe so I’m stopping eating, breathing and drinking in general. I’m also locking myself in a totally dark room so the sun doesn’t get me.

    Nothing is safe.

  15. Nijma Says:

    Oh dear, Corey, arsenic hasn’t been used for wood preservation for centuries. Too dangerous for the people manufacturing it. I guess that’s why the Stradivarius violins are so expensive.

    Anyone who works with wood for any length of time knows you have to use special treatments for anything that will come in contact with food, like salad bowls.

    The coffee stirrers look like just plain wood without any treatment at all. Sort of like a skinny tongue depressor. Of course you throw them away as soon as you stir your coffee.

    As for E.Coli, that’s really silly. E.coli is a common bacteria that grows in the colon and is present in poop. How would it get into a tree? And you don’t eat off of your car or your toys or your computer, at least most people don’t, so how would chemicals from your car leach into your food?

    ~For those concerned about lead in ceramics, there are several lead detection kits out there so you can now test bowls, toys, etc. yourself. Some kits are better than others, so google the ratings before you buy.

  16. CoreyT Says:

    Eh? The EPA phased out the use of CCA only in 2002.


    Given it’s outdoor wood they’re talking about but without knowing its history, would you trust all wood provided from any country? Say, cheap, imported wooden implements?

    As for E.Coli (or salmonella) on wooden kitchen implements, if you use a wooden spoon to cook meat or cut raw meat on a wooden chopping board, you’re at risk if bacteria get into grooves in the wood, a real risk if it’s a crap piece of wood and sharp knife and scrubbing it won’t work. Don’t poo-poo it, people really do use raw meat on their wooden boards.

    The point about cars, toys, etc. is that if there were dioxins actually present in those plastics in significant quantities and all it took was heat or a UV light source to liberate them as is being asserted here, you wouldn’t need to ingest them, you would be breathing them in. Dioxins are a gas, after all. That’s if, mind you, there were actually more than trace amounts in plastics.

  17. Nijma Says:

    I remember Penta and something called PEG, then there’s Thompson’s Water Seal for outdoor and Watco Danish oil for indoor applications. But that is outdoor grade lumber and quite expensive to treat with chemicals or pressure treat. I mean, go to Menards’ and price the plywood that has been treated. It’s not something that’s done causally. I also suspect it would be pretty easy to tell the difference between something with say, a cresote finish and no finish.

    No, I don’t buy stuff from China anymore, they simply have no concept of quality control.

    Yes, I use wooden cooking utensils. They were purchased or received as gifts unfinished. I sand them down to 400 grit paper, clean them with bleach and season them with cooking oil. Same with wooden cutting boards.

    There is a different standard for what you do in the home and what you do in a public setting. At home your germs are your own and you are used to them. For public there are specific standards for cleaning. I have heard anecdotes about not putting your bread on your meat cutting space. You also have to be able to clean the surface effectively. I can’t tell you about the specifics for the industry, but in Jordan, I have seen the wooden chopping block surfaces cleaned with bleach–in fact the whole shop, floor and everything.

    I would also differentiate between germs and toxic substances. Germs are part of the environment and most people have immune systems that deal with the average germ pretty effectively. Maybe you get diarrhea, or need antibiotic, but you get over it. On the other hand, chemicals might be hard for the body to get rid of. Detoxification happens in the liver and kidneys. You don’t want damage to either one of those.

  18. KK Says:

    HI, if you place a plastic bag over your food when cooking, does this release dioxin in your food? also if you store food in a plastic bag and you place it in the buttom compartment of the fridge will it alaso release dioxin in your food?

  19. Inessa Says:

    The email which you received (start of the page) is a hoax. Please read http://www.jhsph.edu/dioxins

    Quoting from above link:
    January 15, 2008
    Email Hoax Regarding Freezing Water Bottles and Microwave Cooking
    The Internet is flooded with messages warning against freezing water in plastic bottles or cooking with plastics in the microwave oven. These messages, frequently titled “Johns Hopkins Cancer News” or “Johns Hopkins Cancer Update,” are falsely attributed to Johns Hopkins and we do not endorse their content.
    Freezing water does not cause the release of chemicals from plastic bottles.
    In general, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when using any plastic products. When cooking with plastics, only use those plastic containers, wraps, bags and utensils for their intended purposes.

  20. Nijma Says:

    Thank you Inessa, for your updated links. I read them and they scared me.

    The above comments conclude that Johns Hopkins is saying nothing that might alarm the plastics industry. Apparently the information is being passed by JH employees to each other or is being presented by public health professionals. No one anywhere is willing to state that plastic is safe for cooking.

    I use waxed paper for the microwave.

  21. J Camp Says:

    It’s people like you that should be shot for circulating rumors.

    Straight from the John Hopkins Website –

    “The Internet is flooded with messages warning against freezing water in plastic bottles or cooking with plastics in the microwave oven. These messages, frequently titled “Johns Hopkins Cancer News” or “Johns Hopkins Cancer Update,” are falsely attributed to Johns Hopkins and we do not endorse their content.”


  22. Nijma Says:

    Does Johns Hopkins now advocate shooting people as well? I’ve gotten some weird comments on this blog, but this is the first one that contained a death threat–by someone who obviously didn’t bother to read the article or the comments. read it again. It’s clear the messages are being sent by employees of Johns Hopkins who are concerned about their own health and that of their family members. It’s also very clear no one–certainly not Johns Hopkins–is claiming that plastic is safe for heating food.

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